Sonics arena proposal a slam dunk loser


Come on… can anybody other than a newspaper editorial board or a stadium-struck state senator really take Sonics owner Clay Bennett seriously? Yesterday Bennett unveiled sketches of a proposed $500 million Renton arena, but….

Bennett said team owners won’t pay for any cost overruns [… and] he did not say how much owners would contribute…

So let me get this straight. The Sonics want a $500 million arena of their own design, financed by $300 million in state money, plus $100 million or so in land and cash from the city of Renton. Renton would own the arena, and be responsible for major maintenance and repairs, but the Sonics would keep all revenues from all events, and not be responsible for a penny of construction cost overruns. Of the remaining $100 million not covered by taxpayers, that would mostly be offset by naming rights, seat licenses and other such deals, bringing Bennett and his partners’ total contribution to… just about nil.

And Bennett calls a public vote on the proposal “problematic”…? No shit, Sherlock.

Given the political reality (you know… that state Sen. Margarita Prentice of Renton only has one vote,) you’d think Bennett might have tried to sweeten the pot instead of announcing that taxpayers would be stuck with the inevitable cost overruns. But then, I’ve never believed that Bennett ever seriously wanted to keep the Sonics in the Seattle area, but rather has always intended to move the team back home to Oklahoma City, where he will be welcomed as a conquering hero. In that admittedly cynical scenario the arena proposal must be just believable enough to keep gullible fans (and editors) in their seats until the Key Arena lease runs out in 2010, but outrageous enough to make the deal politically DOA.

That Bennett now says he might accept a public vote on his proposal fits in quite nicely with that strategy, dragging the process out even further while virtually assuring that such a grandiose act of corporate welfare is rejected at the polls.

So enjoy the Seattle Sonics while you can. That is, if you can enjoy a team that can’t be bothered to put a quality product on the court, even while supposedly in the midst of fight to gain public support for a new, taxpayer-funded arena.

After a similar Sonics “announcement” a couple weeks back, I compared the contrasting coverage in the Times and P-I, much to the irritation of Times reporter David Postman, who accused me of being a wrong-headed, fatuous drunk.

I like Postman, and think he’s a great reporter. But he’s more than a little bit sensitive, and he took my critique as a personal attack on the Times and his colleagues. No doubt I preferred the editorial slant of the P-I’s coverage (I often do,) but whether Postman accepts my explanation or not, my main goal was to point out that different papers covering the same event often impress in readers dramatically different perceptions of the key issues at hand.

So considering our previous media criticism brouhaha, it is only fair to compare and contrast the Times and P-I in their coverage of yesterday’s Sonics “news.”

Seattle Times:

OLYMPIA — Sonics owner Clay Bennett on Monday unveiled early sketches of a proposed $500 million Renton arena and softened his stance on whether it should go to a public vote.

But Bennett said team owners won’t pay for any cost overruns. And with a Legislature skeptical over the $300 million-plus bill to taxpayers already sought, it’s not clear whether the building will ever become more than ink on paper.

At a hearing before the House Finance Committee, Bennett offered few new details about the proposed arena beyond the sketches. He did not say how much owners would contribute and said many details would have to be worked out in a lease with King County.

Seattle P-I:
OLYMPIA — After months of conjecture, Clay Bennett and his partners put a visual face on their new arena concept Monday with the release of architectural drawings of the proposed Sonics facility in Renton.

“I’m open to whatever the right answer is, whatever leadership recommends and whatever’s right for this region,” Bennett told lawmakers.

The public — as well as lawmakers — can now picture the 20,000-seat building Bennett has planned for the site, which was announced two weeks ago.

Readers of the P-I were presented with a lede that pretty much tells the story Bennett wanted to tell: a politically conciliatory Bennett released architectural drawings that enable the public and lawmakers to envision the new, proposed arena. In fact, the P-I article never even mentions anything about cost overruns or owners contributions.

The Times lede is quite a bit more nuanced… and appropriately cynical. It too starts with the visual — the sketches of the new arena — but quickly dives into the political deep-end of the story: the team won’t pay for cost overruns or commit to a contribution, and legislators remain skeptical. While the P-I says the public “can now picture” the new arena, the Times ephasizes that “Bennett offered few new details.” And though the P-I leads with a propitiative Bennett quote, the Times merely describes the Sonics owner as having “softened his stance.”

My only formal journalism training occurred way back in high school, but I’m pretty sure the admonition to put the most important information near the top, hasn’t changed much these past twenty-five years. (A rule, by the way, which I often break.) Many readers never get past the first few paragraphs, so when it comes to the release of the architectural sketches, those who picked up the P-I this morning will simply learn what happened, while those who picked up the Times will learn what it all means. Score one for the Times.

As I’ve said before: one hearing, two newspapers, two ledes.

And all the more reason to keep this a two newspaper town.


  1. 1

    YOS LIB BRO spews:




  2. 2


    One of these days I’ll learn to always make a copy of my post before hitting “submit”.

    The Tacoma News Tribune did a very good job covering this story in today’s edition. They were careful to present a balanced account of the whole situation, and did not even once ask the question “THEY WANT WHAT?!?!?

    Let’s see. The worst team in the division wants a HALF BILLION DOLLAR arena or they will leave. This HALF BILLION DOLLAR complex is to include a night club and restaurants, just so that the local businesses don’t get any of the peripheral dollars that come with a sports franchise.

    They want the taxpayers of the area to pay the lion’s share of the costs for this HALF BILLION DOLLAR complex, and will not even share in any cost overruns.

    They are against having a vote on whether the taxpayers actually want to give the Sonics this HALF BILLION DOLLAR palace.

    I would like to be the first to wish the Oklahoma City Sonics the best of luck in their new city, although I think they should change the name of the team.

    Perhaps the Oklahoma City Dusties would work, or maybe the Oklahoma City Wild Turkeys (after the state game bird). Or maybe just the most appropriate name, the Oklahoma City Extortionists would be the best choice.

  3. 3

    rhp6033 spews:

    “Na na na na, na na na na, hey hey hey, goodbye

    He’ll never love you, the way that I love you
    ‘Cause if he did, no no, he wouldn’t make you cry
    He might be thrillin’ baby but a-my love (my love, my love)
    So dog-gone willin’
    So kiss him (I wanna see you kiss him, wanna see you kiss him)
    Go on and kiss him goodbye

    Na na na na, hey hey-hey, goodbye
    Na na na na, na na na na, hey hey hey, goodbye
    Listen to me now
    He’s never near you to comfort and cheer you
    When all those sad tears are fallin’ baby from your eyes
    He might be thrillin’ baby but a-my love (my love, my love)
    So dog-gone willin’
    So kiss him (I wanna see you kiss him. I wanna see you kiss him)
    Go on and kiss him goodbye

    Na-na na-na-na na na na na na na, hey hey hey, goodbye
    Hey hey-hey, goodbye
    Na na na na, na na na na, hey hey hey, goodbye
    Na na na na, na na na na, hey hey hey, goodbye
    Na na na na, na na na na, hey hey hey, goodbye [repeat many times and fade out]

    By: Steam (Gary DeCarlo, Dale Frashuer and Paul Leka), copyright 1969 (quoted here under fair use doctrine).

    Online Source:

  4. 4

    LEFT is RIGHT spews:

    Yeah but Goldy you don’t NEED to put any hooks into the first few paragraphs because most people who read blogs read the entire post.

    Thanks for keeping us informed and entertained.

  5. 5

    ivan spews:

    This is an opening offer and only a fool would imagine that this is the final deal. Don’t waste a lot of time worrying about it. The taxpayers can get a much better deal than this, but must be willing to deal.

    Bennett would be an idiot to draw a line in the sand at this point, and so would the taxpayers.

    At least see if we can get an NHL team out of this, and certainly let’s deal on the terms of the arena management.

    Because whether some people like it or not, there IS some point at which a deal becomes acceptable to enough people that this new arena WILL happen. People might disagree on where that point is, but it’s out there. Certainly it’s not what’s on the table right now, today. They can shove that.

  6. 6


    Ivan @5,

    Okay… I’d be willing to seriously consider a $225 million renovation of Key Arena in which the Sonics pick up 60-percent of the costs.

    Schultz’s proposal was never a deal-breaker. It was always his lopsided funding package that made it politically untenable.

  7. 7

    Postman spews:

    Goldy, I never had any formal journalism education, so maybe I should just bow to your superior training. But last week you accused these same two reporters of bias. Here’s what you wrote: “I’m not implying any intentional bias on the part of the various reporters, just that bias inevitably exists, and inevitably seeps through every journalist’s work, no matter how hard they try to suppress it.”

    Whatever the case, you were convinced it was bias, as you always are.

    Now, today you like the Times story and not the PI story. The reason why is clear. You dislike the Sonics subsidy and you pick the story that you think is hardest on the Sonics. You did that last week, too. That’s your bias and you’re open about it.

    But since your findings today are opposite of what you wrote last week, do you think these two reporters’ biases changed in the past week? No. There is no bias showing here. This is journalism. The reporters base the story on what they see, what they think is most important or interesting, and that varies depending on the circumstances. Sometimes I think they pick right, and sometimes I think they pick wrong. Sometimes I pick wrong and wish I had led my story differently. Writing on deadline can be difficult and not every story is perfect.

    You’re right that two papers cover things differently. But what I can’t understand is how you can’t see that this post and last week’s post disprove any theory that bias is behind those differences.

    Everything is not political, David. Not everyone is motivated by an agenda or some uncontrolable but unseen urge.

  8. 8

    Wells spews:

    I suggest the sonics don new uniforms in Oklahoma: overalls, straw hats, corncob pipes, fishin poles and shoes with holes so the toes shows. Yeehaw! Now, that some baskyball!

  9. 9

    Richard Pope spews:


    2 Sonics owners: No gay marriage

    OLYMPIA — The millionaires who’ve turned to this state’s left-leaning Legislature to authorize a $300 million tax subsidy for a new basketball arena have been playing right-wing politics.

    Two members of the new Sonics ownership group are heavyweight financiers of a national political group dedicated to banning gay marriage.

    Together, co-owners Tom Ward and Aubrey McClendon donated more than $1.1 million to Americans United to Preserve Marriage, a conservative Christian group that opposes gay marriage.

    etc. More details at:

  10. 10

    rhp6033 spews:

    Ivan at 5: Sorry, but I don’t think this is a serious offer, and the public officials shouldn’t start negotiating until a serious offer is on the table.

    This offer is so patently outrageous that it begs to be defeated. If we were to accept such an offer, Bennet would actually be (mildly) dissapointed, except that he would be laughing all the way to the bank, telling his Oklahoma buddies what “hayseeds” we were, to allow ourselves to be taken advantage of in such a way.

    Trying to negotiate against an offer is bad strategy. If you try to negotiate against a “pie in the sky” offer, then your eventual compromise will always be higher than what is reasonable. Any good negotiator demands a “good faith” reasonable offer before negotiations commence.

    Even if we built the stadium, his promises to keep the team there aren’t worth much. He could sell the team again, and the new owner won’t feel bound by any such assurances. And a little creative bookeeping can make the team post a loss, allowing them to file Chapter 11 and legally break the lease just about any time they desired.

    It’s a fool’s deal.

  11. 11

    Richard Pope spews:

    If the Sonics are of such public benefit that giving away $350 million in public funds to build them a new arena is being seriously considered, then I have a better idea.

    The State of Washington should use its power of eminent domain to expropriate the Sonics from their current owners. Presumably, the reasonable compensation would be the $350 million that the current Sonics owners just paid for the team.

    So for $350 million, the State of Washington can seize the Sonics through eminent domain, and keep the Sonics playing in the existing Key Arena facility for as long as we want.

    If the State of Washington ever gets tired of the Sonics, then we can always resell them to someone else, and probably end up making a profit considerably above the $350 million that we would have to pay for them.

    On the other hand, if the State of Washington invests $350 million in a new basketball arena, that money will basically go down the drain. The facility will be encumbered with a long-term lease to the Sonics owners for practically nothing, and basically would not have any market value under those circumstances. Good bye to $350 million.

    It should be pointed out that a nearly rent-free $350 to $500 million new basketball arena will likely increase the market value of the Sonics by $150 to $200 million.

    If the State of Washington wants to invest $350 million in a new basketball arena, then we should expropriate the Sonics for $350 million first. That way, the taxpayers (and not the private owners) will enjoy the benefit of the $150 to $200 million boost in market value that the Sonics will receive as a result of a new nearly rent-free arena.

  12. 12


    Postman @7,

    I think, David, the heart of our dispute is that you and I don’t agree on the meaning of the word “bias.” You are using “bias” as I would use the word “prejudice,” implying a more pejorative and, um, prejudicial connotation. I mean bias in a broader, more psychological sense, in that no two people experience or report the same event exactly the same. Perhaps my choice of words was imprecise in describing the act of writing a news article, but it is certainly dead-on in describing the impact the articles have on the readers. Readers of the two articles will come away with very different impressions. They will have been biased.

    I would also like to reiterate that, at least in my sense of the word, I don’t believe that the Times reporters are any more or less biased than those at the P-I. I never implied intent or motivation, and I never meant to imply that the bias was necessarily political. You seem to think that my “theory” from the first post was that the Times reporters were biased in favor of the Sonics, but I never said that. What they did do, however, was write an article that created in readers a bias in favor of the Sonics… just as the PI reporters did this time around.

    Despite what you might think, I don’t hold the Times news staff in any lower or higher regard than the PI’s, and I don’t believe that either staff attempts to express a political agenda. Yes, I hate your op-ed page — I not only disagree with many of its opinions, but I find it consistently misleading, and sometimes downright untruthful — and it’s not a particularly compelling read. (On that note, I find the PI’s mini-editorial format to be annoying and ridiculous.) But like most readers, I don’t notice much of a difference between the newspapers themselves.

  13. 13


    David, just because you’re a fatuous wrong-headed drunk doesn’t mean you might be not totally wrong every once in a great while. If what you’re saying is that the Sonics don’t deserve the hundreds of millions of dollars in corporate welfare they’re begging for, then you’re on the right side of an issue for a change.

  14. 14


    oops, not enough negatives in the first sentence above. Should read “just because you’re a fatuous wrong-headed drunk doesn’t mean you might not be not totally wrong every once in a great while” (I think). you get the point.

  15. 15

    ivan spews:

    rhp6033 @ 10:

    Are you supposed to be disagreeing with what I said? It sure doesn’t look that way.

  16. 16

    Postman spews:

    Goldy, I know you think I am overly sensitive on this. But you can’t just back away from the well-understood meaning of a word, particularly a word so loaded in this context. We can let the dictionary decide. Webster says that bias means “a mental leaning or inclination; partiality; prejudice; bent.” So when you say I look at it as meaning some sort of prejudice, you bet. There’s no question that’s what it means. There is no broader meaning of bias in a psychological sense. Different experiences are not about bias. Different abilities are not about bias. There is a Rashomon effect to reporting all the time. But that’s not bias. And the constant accusation takes away from the important job you and others have of policing for real bias in the media. (See: wolf; boy crying.)

    And I thought this was about your championing the importance of a two-newspaper town. Now you say you — and most readers — can’t tell much difference between Seattle’s two dailies. If that’s true, I guess that bias you were talking about doesn’t really exist in the broader psychological meaning either.

    But most importantly, it looks like you and Stefan agree on something and that’s giving me an eery feeling. (See: hell; freezing.)

  17. 17

    ArtFart spews:

    11. Richard, I really like your idea, and it may well be legal, but you know damned well that the bigwigs of the NBA would yank the franchise in a New York minute. No way will the corporate fat cats allow a precedent to be set for further interference with their partaking from the public trough.

  18. 18

    ArtFart spews:

    The illustration reminds me of the pictures from the “Bulgemobile” features in the National Lampoon satirizing 1950’s-era American cars. Hey, it even has tailfins!

    I’d be in favor of holding a public vote on whether to provide Clay Bennett and his gay-bashing pals with a thorough coating of tar and feathers and a one-way ride out of town.

  19. 19


    Postman @16,

    But I was very clear, in my first post, that I wasn’t implying intent, a statement you refuse to accept no matter how many times I say it.

    As for Stefan and I agreeing, hell, yesterday I found myself agreeing with Dori Monson. Talk about hell freezing over.

  20. 21

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    Not to worry; if it appears the Legislature may be stupid enough to buy this pig, Bennett demand they also fund a manned flight to Mars.

    Can you say “Oklahoma City Sonics”?

  21. 22

    gs spews:

    They didn’t buy the 10 Billion dollar tunnel and that now makes this look like a deal. If we could run railroad tracks around the inside it would be a slam dunk!

  22. 23

    YOS LIB BRO spews:

    you’re a fatuous wrong-headed drunk



  23. 25

    Richard Pope spews:

    Clayton Bennett has donated $89,400.00 in federal donations, according to the FEC website. The vast majority of these appear to be to Republicans.

  24. 26


    Let the sonics move to Oklahoma City… we don’t need to be wasting tax dollars on building a new arena which will inevitably line the pockets of the homophobic owners of the franchise.

  25. 27

    Richard Pope spews:

    Good comment, Scott Wilburn.

    Frankly, I don’t care who the owners of the Sonics donate money to, or whether they donate to anyone. This corporate giveaway is outrageous any way you cut it.

    The new Sonics owners all seem to be Republicans and pretty conservative. I generally like Republicans. But since Republicans are decidedly in the minority in current state political affairs, maybe this ideological bias will be a not-so-good to so-so reason for defeating a horrible idea. (The good reason to defeat it is that government subsidized stadiums to benefit rich teams and players are a horrible idea.)

    To keep things in perspective:

    1995 — Democrat Governor Mike Lowry forced Mariners Stadium giveaway down taxpayers throats. State House was nearly 2-1 GOP and state Senate 25D-24R.

    1997 — Democrat Governor Gary Locke got legislature to send Seahawks Stadium giveaway to referendum special election. State House was about 3-2 GOP and state Senate 25R-24D (or was it 26R-23D?). Paul Allen won referendum by dumping in nearly $10 million of his company’s funds to get people to narrowly approve it.

    So there are idiots in both parties that support these kind of outrageous ideas. Neither stadium would have been approved if at least one of the political parties had stood up and resolutely opposed it.